Artist: The Clientele Release Date: July 3,2003
"The Violet Hour" is an aerial album in minor chords. It wears whimsicality on its record sleeve. In an arena stuffed with confession, melodrama and sinister pose, kncking out an album like this humour-intact can be a bit of a trick. That maybe why the light sigh you get here graces the ear so well. Rainy images, wash from one song to the next, a bit of nostalgic drear one second, a fond memory blurred there. The Clientele are a collection of lads oddly-acquainted with the likes of the Byrds or Donovan, but have hit upon the idea that a few sincere tones might alleviate the current revival of all things eighties. As a result, they come across timeless and well worn, i.e. sounds hopelessly dated. Mssr. Renan put it better, "the way to be right in the future consists in knowing how to resign ourselves to being out of fashion now." The sound is unpolished but studious; the harmonies lush but autumnal. Unapologetically twee, they actually manage to out-fey even their ever-so-slightly gone by the wayside contemporaries Belle and Sebastian1, without needlessly gracing the gates of Irony or Pose. Surely this must be rough going in the UK.
Label: Pointy Records / Merge Records Running time: 49m 47s
Jim Hornsby - Bass
Alasdair Maclean - Guitar, Vocals, Artwork
Mark Keen - Piano, Drums
Michael Williams - Cover Photo
Nainesh Shah - Layout Design
Adam Nunn - Mastering
Mike Jones - Engineer
Right from the first track, "The Violet Hour", their sound sways and murmurs along with a jangly harmonic and giddy bounce, half-whispered and not wanting to say too much. A study in understatement, "...So that summer came and went / And I became cold," and we get allusions to dramatis and drear but never dejection. The lead guitar-work of Alasdair MacLean could be as catchy and studied as early Johnny Marr. The track which follows, "Voices in the Mall", follows the same dreamy, liquid ease; a little maudlin, even ending with distant church bells, but slipping perfectly into the record's centerpiece (and the reason, if any other, that you might want to give it a listen) ...
Not many songs like "When You and I Were Young" hold up to extended listening - the emotive play usually wears a little thin - but this track is an exception, think "Here's Where The Story Ends" styled by Nick Drake, orchestrated by early Tindersticks. There is a gauzy, foggy quality to the track that traipses us through a city in early fall, leaves alight against grey clouds but warm sun, the lilting tempo mimicking a breeze.
Are there weak tracks? Sure, "Missing" for example, follows a truly tough act and quite understandably falls a little a flat, but ideally one needs a bit of modulation in an album like this and the troupe quickly gets up to speed again with "House on Fire." Accompanied by cello, and skipping along with bravado and brio, we have another single that would easily stand next to any number of bittersweet numbers by say Squeeze, Galaxie 500 or the Sundays. A track like "Lamplight" falls into the same delightful happy-sad category, and if anything hearkens back to a brief early 90s perchance for dream pop, with melodies like you might find buried in the over-produced offerings of the Verve or Spiritualized at the time. Still really pretty as all get out though...2
1Did you hear the Storytelling soundtrack? Really. My condolences.
2 I wish I could think of more contemporary examples, but this particular sort of completely melodic pop music really hasn't been made in quite a while. Well, that's not entirely true). If you like this sound, you might want to take a run at Azure Ray's Hold On Love (Saddle Creek, 2003), Broadcast's haha sound (Warp, 2003), Neko Case's Blacklisted (Bloodshot, 2002) or Granada's Takes A Lot of Walking (Look Left, 2002). I wouldn't go so far as to say they're all in the same ballpark, but similar, earnestly-crafted flurries of melancholy appear on each...